I’ve finally managed to get going on my exploring the area by bike again, after a long lay up explained elsewhere. I normally use a mapping program called Ride with GPS for my planning of a cycling route but I have found recently that Microsoft’s Bing Maps online does have an Ordnance Survey maps display mode, showing much more detail about the ‘what’ that is along the way that a route passes as well as the ‘where’ you’re going. This was how how I made my plan for today.
If you notice that I sometimes tell you about something that I see, a sign for a reserve or monument entrance or something that you think ‘Why didn’t he go into that a bit more?’, it’s because of my weird MS that lets me cycle as normally as anyone else but turns me into a clumsy stumbler when trying to walk far without some sort of support. I think it is to do with the muscle control signals being overloaded if they have to work on keeping my top half upright and balanced as well when I’m walking, when riding it just has to deal with the legs going round and my arms and hands take the information processing load off the rest of my easily confused central nervous system.
If it’s somewhere I can take the bike along with me, that’s fine, I can lean on it. However if there is an access where I have to leave the bike and walk any distance without it I have to log it in my mental map and come back to it by car another time when I can carry a walking stick in the boot. So it is either going for a cycle ride, which means a cycle ride without many stops to look around unless it’s right on the road, or for a walk, for which I have to go somewhere by car and then go off for my explore on foot after parking up. It would be nice if Mrs B would come out for a little pootle sometimes as well, she’s pretty good to lean on, but I fear after my tales of North Cornwall cycling so far – including 15-30% climbing – she doesn’t appear to be that keen. Maybe an electric bike is going to be needed for her.
Anyway, the plan was this Saturday to head out to Poundstock, a small village just on the coastal side of the A39 ‘Atlantic Highway’. I had seen that there was a ‘Medieval Gildhouse’ here so that gave me a ‘get to there’ point as my target to see that. When I started looking at the roads that sort of headed that way I followed the NCN3 route up to Week St Mary and noticed that there were some old 13th Century Manor House remains on the OSM map, it was turning away from the NCN route and on to a direct to Poundstock lane, so that was my general mental map done, the way back was either a straight back return or turn off towards and through Jacobstowe, depending on time and inclination.
It turns out that inclination in its other sense was a good word to describe the route as well. As I headed out for Week St Mary I approached it on roads that I had already ridden, so there was nothing to be anxious about. For the first 14km in fact it was all pleasant and manageable, spinning along nicely and enjoying the warm but not too hot weather and fantastic views out over the farming countryside. Then I turned off the NCN Bude route towards Poundstock, a little climb to start and then a long, twisty 16% plunge down into a cooler and shaded little valley. I already started to fear getting back out of here again, I know the terrain of Cornwall doesn’t give you these little quiet and lush valleys for free. At the bottom was a small car park and gate with a sign for Penhallam Manor, the 13th Century ruin owned by English Heritage.
The sign at the gate unfortunately said no riding (or shooting apparently, but that was not a great loss) and a ten minute walk up to the site. I did think that the riding referred to applied to a horse and not a bike and maybe I should just try it anyway, in the end I decided that it was probably a similar enough thing that I should respect it, this was one for a return with the car. Quick slurp and the onwards road to climb out of here.
I was pleasantly surprised by my pace and feel on the climb, I had managed a few indoor trainer sessions recently and it seemed these attempts at getting some fitness back had been useful, the climb out wasn’t quite as steep as the descent and I was thankful for the top appearing before my new heart rate monitor started getting too excited. Then it dropped down steeply again after half a kilometre, followed immediately by a similar climb out. Except this one was the same grade but twice as long and finished at the junction with the A39. I arrived at the junction probably looking pretty uncool in my heavy breathing red-faced appearance as the busy going elsewhere holiday traffic whizzed by.
Poundstock itself was just across the road so I crossed and wound down the lane and came to a rest at my halfway destination. The Church and Gildhouse were looking lovely in the sun and on a well maintained site, although the notice on the door told me that you could only go in to the Gildhouse to have a further look on a Wednesday. So I sat in the shade of the Lychgate for a while with my drink and slice of Banana Loaf for my half hour breather stop and just took in the interesting architecture and quietness.
For my return I had to climb back up to the main road, cross over and descend which again bought me to the bottom of a climb. Cumulative climbing and increasing temperature had combined to make this harder now, a fact appreciated by a car full of young girls that had stopped at a narrow part at the top 40 metres ahead to let me come up to it and pass them. I appreciated them recognising a danger and stopping instead of just ploughing on and squeezing me into the hedge but managed only a weak puffing ‘Thank you’ and wave to their whooping, cheering and clapping out of the open windows of the car as I passed them.
Ahead of me was the drop down to the Penhallam valley again and I was just thinking of the pain of the 16% climb out of it when I saw the right hand turn signed to Jacobstowe, so I took that, thinking that if there had been anything horrible about this road on the map I would have noticed it. It was uphill again, although this time it was just longer and a less severe gradient. I had noticed at this point that there weren’t many flat plateaus on my route and I was wondering to myself if there where actually any in Cornwall as a whole.
Eventually after more rollercoasters of steep descents, cool valleys – and hauling my many kilos against gravity on more climbs – I passed through the village of Jacobstowe and came out on a road I recognised. I could actually get home within a few kilometres of here but I looked at my computer and thought “well, just around thirty kilometres isn’t that far so I’ll turn left here and add a loop on”. Easy.
The drop down to Canworthy Water after a small gentle climb was very enjoyable, wide and good visibility so I put my head down and got some speed up. At the bottom I stopped and lingered on the bridge over the River Ottery for a drink and a few pictures, unfortunately too late unpacking my camera to take one of the Heron I had disturbed from its still and patient vigil while it was trying to capture its tea.
I had a vague memory of driving this road, I remembered there was a climb again up through Warbstow, what hadn’t registered of course is that the climb actually starts at Canworthy Water which makes it just over 3 kilometres of climbing until the other end of Warbstow. So I started on the way with a sort of dogged determination to get it done but some steeper parts of about 10% were having a serious go at my mental resolve. I was mainly just plodding by now. My legs had a good few hundred metres of uphill in them and they really just wanted to get home and be on about the same level as my head for a while to recuperate, preferably with the head making snoring noises.
I was glad to find a distraction near the top of the hill and probably the most impressive ancient site along my route for today, the Warbstow Bury Hillfort. I managed to leave the bike leaning against a hedge after entering the site and get on the top of the banks of the fort, to enjoy a view across what was now mainly farmland with a few villages dotted about it. I could see the coast from here and the satellite dishes of the GCHQ base at Marhamchurch, plus further out was the dark shape on the horizon in the Bristol Channel that is Lundy Island, perhaps about 35 mile distant from here. You could see why ancient people before me might have stood here and decided it was a great place to keep an eye on their lands.
Returning to the bike there was just the small matter of about 50 metres of the climb left from the monument entrance and then a convenient gravity-driven light warm-down spin and roll for the last 2km home. Checking the GPS track from my new-to-me computer gives a 36 kilometre distance with 648 metres of climbing, plus my Heart Rate Monitor giving figures that I’ll keep to myself as showing them will only make Mrs B raise her own rate a fair bit.
So that’s immediately North West of here looked at and much history uncovered that I hadn’t been to see before. Now I wonder which direction all the flat bits are…